Adrift

lostatsea

2018 was the year that if anything in my personal life could go wrong…it did.

I had my first tooth pulled in January.  One sister began chemotherapy in January.  A month later, a second sister started chemotherapy.  My best friend became gravely ill.  One of my daughters faced a serious issue that took months to resolve.  We experienced a summer of smoke and encroaching forest fires in the surrounding mountains where I live.  I took a short trip and ended up in a hospital away from home with a kidney stone.  My ex-husband had a major stroke.  My sister and best friend died in December.  There was more but you get the gist, right?

I painted this piece in my journal as this torrent of challenges was only starting.  Already, I was feeling lost at sea.  Without a paddle.

Seeing this painting, one of my daughters thought I should call it The Bell Peppers…as their clothing is the color of bell peppers.

I appreciate when my art gives me an outlet for feelings.  Sometimes I’m overwrought and life is just too much for me to even consider putting brush or pen to page.  Most of the time, it’s the best elixir for the despair or trauma or whatever is at hand that seems too big to handle.

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These days we feel things coming at us right and left.  Top it off with a pandemic!  Yet, there has always been an undercurrent of unrest with social injustices, political and corporate greed, economic inequities, media manipulation, repercussions of climate change.  The list goes on.  What’s been undercover is now on the surface.  I’m told that this is good because now we know what we’re dealing with.  Now, we can begin to address these inequities and other imperative issues.

What is your way of dealing with “TOO MUCH?”

 

The Walkaway

In the face of Covid 19, the United Nations Secretary-General, in one of his speeches,  declared that war is obsolete!  In these times of the pandemic, war seems to be a non-sequitur.  A virus is now “the enemy”.  Can we stop the nonsense and focus on what’s at hand, like the virus, global warming, overpopulation…and start addressing the real issues of a planet at risk?  Aren’t people experiencing enough trauma without having to contend with war?  We know which people are the first to be attacked during warfare–women and children.  Time for a serious time out!

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This painting and poem were first published on this blog in November of 2017.  This painting originated from a poem I wrote several years before.   He is walking away preparing to board a naval ship, shipping out to Vietnam.  Is he going to return?  If he does return, how is war going to change him…hence the refrain “Did anyone ever come back from Vietnam, I wondered.”

When I was eighteen years old, a girlfriend and I volunteered at the USO club on Market Street in San Francisco.  This was in 1967-1968, during the Vietnam War.  One night a week, we showed up to dance with the sailors and soldiers.  To sit and talk or play games like chess or checkers.  It was an intense time as these young men were either preparing to ship out overseas or had just returned from a stint overseas.  The poem tells the story of one young man who took a liking to me.

The poem:

Circulation
by Christine O’Brien

Don’t dance with just one boy,
make the rounds–
circulate.
Play chess and checkers
card games
no dating them outside of here.

The USO–
we’re here to
provide a home
away from home.
You are the girl next door
…a reputation to uphold
no loose behavior.

His name was Mickey
–from Mississippi.
He wanted a girl
more than anything.
He was being sent off to Vietnam.

Did anyone ever come back from
Vietnam
I wondered?

He claimed me;
threatened all the other soldiers
to stay away.
But I’m supposed to circulate,
I said.
He picked me up after work,
treated me to a soda,
rode home with me on the bus,
met my family,
even loaned my dad a book.
He was scheduled to ship out
in two weeks.

Did anyone ever come back from
Vietnam
I wondered?

His friend drove him to my house.
We kissed in the back seat of the car.
Hard kisses
from him who wanted
to know a kiss
before lips grew cold.
My lips were uncertain
but compliant.
Suddenly I pulled away,
fearful
withdrew into my house
tossing him a good night.

Did anyone ever come back from
Vietnam
I wondered?

He had been so cool
on the dance floor
smooth, sexy dancer.
In his dress blues
bell bottoms
swishing the slippery floor.
I could never attract
a guy like that
I thought.

He wanted to marry me NOW!
The urgency of youth
the uncertainty of undeclared war
leading one to declare love.
I cried all the way home on the bus.
He comforted me
not knowing that I was trying to
break up with him.
He threatened suicide
wasn’t going to Vietnam
suicide enough?

I wondered,
did anyone ever come back
from Vietnam?

the walkaway.

 

 

Grouse

Why Grouse?  This bird signifies the Sacred Spiral Dance in the Native American Tradition.  According to author, Jamie Sams in her book, Medicine Cards:

“Many spiritual disciplines ask that you cease all external movement in order to recognize the inner life.  Grouse medicine, however, is an invitation to the dance.  Grouse celebrates the Divine Source through its sacred spiral dance…you can spend a lifetime learning…how to harmonize your dance with…” the cycles of the earth.

Jamie Sams recommends that you “Analyze the way you move through your world…In the final analysis, is your movement compatible with your greatest desires and goals?”

It is interesting to consider these things in this time of slowing down and sheltering in place.  How do I conduct my dance when I’m at home, alone?  Or in relation to my
family or housemates?  Or out in nature?  Or when social distancing with a friend on a trail?  Or when on a Zoom Call?  Or when in conversation over the telephone?  This forced slowing down is an opportunity for me, for you to observe how we move in the world in the midst of a pandemic.  And, how are we going to choose to move in the world when the virus has run its course?  Is it going to be different?  Reverential perhaps?

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What did this painting mean to me?  At the time I painted it?  Of course, it’s whimsical.  I typically use an actual image, or several images, of who or what I’m painting to ground it in some recognizable reality.  Then, it becomes fanciful.  I call this Grouse Takes a Walk.  Doesn’t he look purposeful.  And even like he himself is a celebration of being.

grouse1

Thomas Berry talks about The Great Story.  He talks about life celebrating itself.  The universe loving expressiveness through all of its variety of manifestations.  That’s what I feel when I look at this grouse!  CELEBRATION.

The question for me is how am I harmonizing with a celebratory universe?  Or, am I adding to the devastation of our earth home within the universe?  I feel that these are the questions that are before us in this time of pandemic.  What am I going to do differently to preserve our earth home for future generations?  I feel that this is our job at this time, to give this some serious thought.

“…the universe, by definition, is a single gorgeous celebratory event.”

THOMAS BERRY,

from “Returning to Our Native Place,” in The Dream of the Earth p. 5

Alone Doesn’t Have to be Lonely

I don’t remember exactly what inspired this mixed media painting.  Except that it was another intuitive journey and continued to shift over time.  Putting down colors that I was drawn to, seeing images within the evolving piece, deciding which ones to elaborate on and which ones to let go.

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It was a cold, winter’s night in the mountains where I live.  There was the early dark of winter and a blizzard outside.  There was nowhere to go and no friend to meet.  An existential loneliness settled in around me.  Resistance is the first response when an uncomfortable feeling presents.  Feet dug in…”I don’t want to go there.”  But it persisted and I needed to be with it.  I’d been working on a painting of a polar bear in the Arctic.  I’d been trying to paint the aurora borealis.  Good luck with that!  That sky went through so many changes.

aurora

What prompted me to paint a polar bear in the Arctic, that I can’t really say except that as I created the background, his image hovered in the painting.  I brought him forward.

polarbear1

That night of extreme loneliness, staring at this painting in process, imagining the polar bear as his world disappears, I wrote the poem that I’ve already shared in this blog earlier.  It begins like this…

It’s cold and I’m alone again at night
The stars so far away, no comfort there
Is the polar bear aware of his plight?
Ice floes are melting, does anyone care?

Painting this piece, writing the poem, helped to shift my energy.  The poem and painting connected me to something outside of myself, bigger than my small life and this moment of loneliness.

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To be human is to feel loneliness at times.  In this time of the pandemic, social isolation and uncertainty, find a way to either write, draw or paint or any other creative activity.
One exploration could involve color.  Color crayons, watercolors, acrylics, colored pencils…any of these work.  On a piece of paper, put down colors that you feel particularly attracted to.  Place them side by side, at different angles to each other.  If you are using paints, notice which colors make other colors “pop” forward and which colors recede.  Let yourself play with color.

 

 

The Virus.1.

I’m not ignoring the virus, the pandemic, the constraints on travel, the isolation, the possible detrimental effects to businesses and their employees as we slow everything down, bring some things to a halt and are forced to isolate and go inside.  If we hopefully aren’t sick, chances are that we or someone we know are directly affected by the restrictions in place at this time.

One of my nieces has been at a cooking school in Southern Italy since January.  The school closed before the course was completed.  She is currently on her way home having to make three different flight connections–one in Munich, one in London and then home to San Francisco.  She is going to self-quarantine for two weeks.  We aren’t sure what requirements she is going to face at each of her stopping points.  We pray for her safe return and minimal hardship along the way.

Then, a nephew working in the entertainment industry, may lose his job.  He finds out today.  He has a wife and three young children.  I can only imagine the stress that he is under at this time.  Of course, ideally, employers should take care of their employees at such a time.  I read that Disneyland is paying their employees during the shutdown.  Yes, we each deserve to be so valued.

One of my daughters is a nurse.  She works twelve-hour shifts.  In a clinic for low income people.  She is sure she’s been exposed to the virus at this point, even with all the precautions that she takes.  On the weekend, she shops for groceries.  She is dismayed to see that the shelves are emptied by people in a panic.  When she loads her shopping cart with what she can find of her weekly food supply, someone in line smirks and says “hoarding.”  She has a husband and three children all at home due to school closures across the land.  We know so little of other people’s lives.  Another reason to be considerate.

For me, I work at home, so at this time, it’s not affecting my daily work routine.  I admit to taking one extra of things on the grocery shelf than I might ordinarily.  I leave plenty for others.  However, being single, I do miss the local social gatherings that have been cancelled.  I call a family member or a friend…but it’s not the same as being in their physical company.  Even living in a small community, the streets are bare and it is somewhat eerie.  I do have concern for my family that lives in the big city.  I do pray for everyone, for a worldly calm to descend.  I also hope that we take advantage of this time apart.

Blessings, calm and good health to you and your families.